HYMNS OF THE CHURCH

Charles Nutter

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Charles Wesley

1 O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
2 My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy Name.
3 Jesus! The Name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.
4 He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
5 He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice;
The humble poor believe.
6 Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy. Amen.

This fine hymn has stood at the head of the Wesleyan Hymn Book since 1779, and has led the procession in the official book of the Methodist Episcopal Church from near its organization, in 1784. Its history is very interesting. 

The author’s title was: “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion.” It was written in 1739 to celebrate the first anniversary of his spiritual birth, and was published in Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1740.

Charles Wesley gives an account of his conversion in his Journal. He says:

“Sunday, May 21, 1738. I waked in expectation of His coming. At nine my brother and some friends came and sang a hymn to the Holy Ghost. My comfort and hope were hereby increased. In about half an hour they went. I betook myself to prayer, the substance as follows: ‘O Jesus, thou hast said, “I will come unto you;” thou hast said, “I will send the Comforter unto you;” thou hast said, “My Father and I will come unto you, and make our abode with you.” Thou art God, who canst not lie. I wholly rely upon thy most true promise: accomplish it in thy time and manner.’... Still I felt a violent opposition and reluctance to believe, yet still the Spirit of God strove with my own and the evil spirit till by degrees he chased away the darkness of my unbelief. I found myself convinced, I knew not how nor when, and immediately fell to intercession.”

The anniversary poem contained eighteen stanzas, beginning:

    Glory to God, and praise, and love
    Be ever, ever given.

The hymn is composed of verses 7 to 12, unaltered except for a single word. The author wrote the second line “My dear Redeemer’s praise.” This was changed by John Wesley to “My great Redeemer’s praise.”

The rapture and extravagance of the first verse are explained by the preceding stanzas, especially verses 2 and 5:

2 On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul he shone,
And filled it with repose.
5 I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
Close to my soul applied;
Me, me he loved– the Son of God;
For me, for me he died.

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley has been called “the poet of Methodism,” but this designation is too narrow for him. He might more properly be called the poet of Christendom, for the entire Christian world is indebted to him for many of its most valuable hymns. For the first place among English hymn writers he has never had but one competitor. Hymnologists have sometimes instituted a comparison between the hymns of Wesley and those of Watts. Some have given the preference to one, and some to the other. We must remember that these men were not rivals. They were too good, too great, and too unlike to be antagonists. They were both princes— aye, kings— of song, but each in his own realm. Watts’ great theme was divine majesty, and no one approaches him in excellence upon this subject. Wesley’s grandest theme was love— the love of God— and here he had no rival. Charles Wesley was born in Epworth, England, December 18, 1707. He was educated at Westminster School and Oxford University, where he took his degree in 1728. It was while a student at Christ Church College that Wesley and a few associates, by strict attention to duty and exemplary conduct, won for themselves the derisive epithet of “Methodists.” He was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1735, and that same year he sailed with his brother John as a missionary to Georgia, but soon returned to England. He was not converted, according to his own statement, until Whitsunday, May 21, 1738. (See note under No. 1.) On that day he received a conscious knowledge of sins forgiven, and this event was the real beginning of his mission as the singer of Methodism. He tells his own experience beautifully in the hymn beginning:

    And can it be that I should gain
    An interest in the Savior’s blood?

Charles Wesley’s hymns may be generally classified as follows: Hymns of Christian experience (“O for a thousand tongues to sing” is an example); invitation hymns (of which “Come, sinners, to the gospel feast” is a good specimen); sanctification hymns (“O for a heart to praise my God” is one of them); funeral hymns (“Rejoice for a brother deceased”); and hymns on the love of God, a subject on which he never became weary. “Wrestling Jacob” represents the last class. But it is preeminently in portraying the various phases of experimental religion— conviction of sin, penitence, saving faith, pardon, assurance, entire sanctification— that Charles Wesley is quite without a peer among hymn writers. His songs have been one of the most potent forces in Methodism since its organization. Nor was he a singer alone, but as an itinerant preacher he was a busy and earnest colaborer with his brother John. After his marriage, in 1749, his itinerant labors were largely restricted to London and Bristol. He died March 29, 1788. “After all,” says Dr. John Julian, the greatest authority in English hymnology, “it was Charles Wesley who was the great hymn writer of the Wesley family, and perhaps, aking quantity and quality into consideration, the great hymn writer of all ages.” Of the six thousand and five hundred hymns by Charles Wesley (all of which were written after his conversion), this collection (The Methodist Hymnal, 1905) contains one hundred and twenty-one.